Product Design: Performance vs Constraints

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Every product starts out on the drawing-board with a set of objectives that define what the product must accomplish. Before clearly setting objectives for the design, it is critical to understand the constraints that may prevent it from achieving all the intended goals. Constraints inherently mean that there are limitations that have to be overcome; this may in the form of cost, ease of manufacturing, spatial restrictions, regulatory guidelines, etc. Trade-offs and compromise are expected during the evolution of a design from a concept to a fully functioning product.

Washing machines, as an example, are a modern day product that has made life easier for millions of users. Their design has evolved over many years to try and decrease water and energy use, and to limit vibration; however, these could always be improved to extend the product life beyond the standard 5 to 7 years. Wet laundry causes a large imbalance and leads to severe vibration. Manufacturers use counterweights, and springs and dampers to limit vibration from reaching the outer cabinet, but they still have to watch their costs to make it affordable for consumers. As newer technologies, such as the patented XYO Balancer, are implemented in designs, costs can be reduced while increasing performance.Compromise in design is seen in almost every product out there. Cell phone manufacturers have to decide which features to include in a handset e.g. quality of the camera, a physical keyboard versus a touch screen, screen quality, battery life, aesthetics, etc. Automotive manufacturers produce various car models that are targeted at consumers with different levels of income. All these examples show that there is always a compromise expected. Some limitations and constraints can be overcome through optimization. Many companies put a lot of effort to optimize their manufacturing and packaging processes so that they can optimize material use and reduce waste. As new tools, technologies, materials and processes emerge, products will continue to expand beyond current constraints. In the meantime, it is important to understand and work within present limitations and to develop products that are still useful to the end user.